We Believe They’re Evil: Party and Diversity in America

My good friend, Hank, alerted me to a recent survey and blog article that reported “many Americans think people in the other party are ignorant, spiteful, evil and generally destroying the country… About half of Democrats think Republicans are ignorant (54%) and spiteful (44%). Likewise, about half of Republicans think Democrats are ignorant (49%) and spiteful (54%). Twenty-one percent of Democrats think Republicans are evil, and about the same share of Republicans (23%) think Democrats are evil.” This is according to a November 2018 Axios poll first aired on HBO.

First of all I must respond by simply saying, “Wow!” Our country is, apparently, far more socio-politically divided than I imagined, but I haven’t had my head stuck in the sand either. Let me say for the record that, even though I identify as a democratic-socialist who aligns more comfortably with the Democrat Party, I do not believe most conservative Republicans are backward, ignorant, sexist, racists who are intent on destroying our country. In many, if not most cases misinformed and even misguided, perhaps, but not fiendish, nefarious individuals dedicated to wrecking society.

The results of the poll do point to an important divide in conviction and deeply held perception, though. How is it we’ve come to this point where so many folks in each party not only look at the “other side” with suspicion but even with disdain and loathing? Specifically, how is it each “side” has come to claim the moral high ground while at the same time condemning the other side as iniquitous and even malevolent? Well, perhaps part of the answer is that this is really not so completely new after all. It may be that when we look back upon the history of our country we may find some deep and wide moral-ethical ( as well as cultural and religious) divisions all along.

My friend, Hank, quoted the blog author (whom I’ve not had an opportunity to read) as opening his article by observing, “Our political and cultural environment has become so intensely moralized, in the sense of seeking with zeal virtue, absent prudence, that to compromise seems like giving in to evil.” And I agree with the second part of his statement — that is, that for many people compromising feels like giving in to evil — however, even though our political and cultural environment is very divided, it has not just now become so “intensely moralized” in its zealous quest for collective, socio-political and economic virtue, thus leading members of the two (or more) parties to harshly condemn members of the other (or some other) party.

Hank, quite gifted and deeply intelligent, surmises that if the blog author’s assessment is correct, then:

[T]he only way … it is correct is that fundamental change to our system, which includes change to the fundamental worldview of that system … is giving up what made us great as a country… The multi-cultural pluralism message is only a message because it doesn’t take into account the reality of fundamental transformation of our country and way of life … Everything may be already ‘gone with the wind,’ but there is a vast residual, in that case, who never were informed of the transformation and who never had a choice or chance to have themselves heard as the changes took place. So, the evil is what people expect to happen when the last vestige of our tradition is no more.

One might justly ask, however, precisely who is meant by “our” and specifically what is meant by “tradition.” In other words, just what is “our tradition?” To many white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants (the WASPs of old), the answer seems to come rather easily … but it also betrays gross over-simplification of American history. For in fact, America has always been multi-cultural, and the embryonic promises of the unique, constitutional, American democracy have only grown and matured down through the generations.

Yes, as Hank also observes, the newly formed United States was informed by an overall Judeo-Christian worldview, broadly speaking, and this broad worldview continued to influence our country at least until somewhat recently, historically speaking. Yet beneath the umbrella of Judeo-Christianity there existed quite some variety marking very important differences between groups, sects, and denominations. From the beginning, there were Quakers and Roman Catholics, Methodists and Presbyterians, Baptists and Congregationalists. There were also Jews and, among the slave population, even Muslims. And we certainly cannot forget the number of Deists and Unitarians to be counted among the Founders of this country… So there we have it: Diversity.

big-time-cover.jpegAnd culturally, there were, of course, English and Scottish, French and Germans, Africans and Spanish, and many Indigenous Peoples, as well as others. Each race and ethnic group brought with it their own cultural history and heritage, norms and habits, traditions and ways of life. This was all part of what made the American colonies so very unique, and the founding of the United States so different and even astonishing. That all of these disparate groups came together under the broad panoply of Judeo-Christianity is an important fact of history, yet one that ought not distort our view of that same rich and variegated history.

Certainly we must recognize that socio-political (and economic) controversy, and in the process claiming the moral high ground, has been part and parcel of American history. After all, the very nation itself was predicated upon self-evident, moral truth, and right from the beginning our Founders wrangled over the question of slavery. And there was some controversy in some states over tax-supported churches, and then there was the question of our relationship with the various Indigenous Peoples. And what about women and their “rightful place” in society? And the manufacturing and selling of alcohol? And the rights of common laborers? Safety in the workplace, quality standards for meats sold on the market, regulation of medications for public safety?

There is so much more from early on in our history that we can mention: Should we maintain a strong military or be more pacifist? Should we invade and conquer the West as part of our “Manifest Destiny” or respect the boundaries of Mexico? Should slaves be counted in the population of a state or not … or partly counted? Should an atheist be allowed to hold public office? And, yes, this was a question, but by the first half of the 20th century was, for the most part, answered in the affirmative. If the majority of voters vote someone into an office, then that individual should be allowed to serve, period. 

But my friend nevertheless laments, “we have lost something great in this country and that is character,” and I do agree with him, though perhaps not in quite the same way. Character includes, among other virtues: honesty, integrity, and courage with love and compassion, and I simply do not see this currently issuing from the White House or the Republican Party in general. Still, we should not conclude that there has been some great overturning of the American society, or that what was established and generally accepted before is now “gone with the wind.” The wind has always been blowing in this part of the world, at least, and still blows today. Where it carries us largely depends on how we set our sails, and that is largely up to us, to be decided by “we the people.”

Now we should conclude by observing that, yes, as a matter of fact Judeo-Christianity has waned in this country, its influence much diminished, but why is that? Perhaps it is not so much that the larger population has rejected truth or, especially, the love of Christ Jesus presented in the Gospel, but rather has altogether and quite understandably rejected an overly-politicized, sham gospel that Jesus of Nazareth would also reject just as vehemently as he renounced the message of the religious leaders of his own day and time. Perhaps it is time for self-professing Christians, especially of the evangelical ilk, to “get back to the basics,” so to speak, in order to re-present the light, life, and love of Christ to the whole of the hungering world suffering in darkness, sin, and death. Maybe then the masses would listen once again. Maybe then the Judeo-Christian worldview would be taken seriously… Perhaps. 

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12 thoughts on “We Believe They’re Evil: Party and Diversity in America

  1. Well written, dear Jonathan!
    People MUST (it’s no longer a matter ‘should’ ) start by looking in the mirror and start taking responsibility for their own and subsequently for their own life first. Regardless, their believes. Accept that we are all imperfect.

  2. Nice response, Jonathan.

    I think that by “tradition” and “our tradition” we have really only to look to Western Civilization in conjunction with a Christian worldview. And, as an aside, I think that too many people presume that so many of the “Founders” were “deists” and “Unitarians” when the historical record does not bear that out. More than 99 percent believed that Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be. But even if more than just a couple of “founders” were deists or Unitarians, that doesn’t account for the vast population as whole, whose bloodshed ultimately ratified the worldview upon which our nation was grounded. We know that had our country consisted of Buddhists at the founding, the idea of inalienable rights granted by our creator would not exist. Nor would they exist with a population of Hindus, Muslims or even Jews for that matter. Our founding documents simply would not have been what they are. At any rate, to suggest diversity from a minority of sects would be to say that the exception does not prove the rule, in my opinion.

    When we talk about questions that have arisen over the years that have been addressed in various ways, we tend not to be aware that much of the “progress” in relation to “rights” and multi-culturalsim during at least the second half of the twentieth century has been accomplished in a manner that is inconsistent with the proscribed methods intended by the founders. We have, in the eyes of some experts, circumvented our Constitution and, in effect, ceded legislative responsibility to the Supreme Court and the federal bureaucracy to the point that we are out of control. Many don’t feel we can rein things back in.

    1. Great comment with good observations, to be sure; however, I might simply point out that democracy was not birthed by the American colonies in the late 18th century, but within the ancient Greek city-states by the pagan Greeks. Of course, you might rightly retort that ours was not founded as a democracy but as a republic, to which I would, of course, answer that neither was republicanism first created on this continent. The republican form of government was created by the pagan Romans, and I would also add that there is noting within Judeo-Christianity or its Scriptures that explicitly recommends either democracy or republicanism. Point in fact, we see theocracy, monarchy, and in the NT an injunction to be submissive to an imperialist autocracy.

      The fact of the matter is, as is well attested by the writings of the Founders, the history and writings of ancient Greece and Rome ~ such as Plato’s “Republic,” and the works of Seneca and Cicero, etc. ~ proved very important in the crafting of the new government. Also, importantly, theirs was a rejection of what was commonly considered the “Christian” divine right of kings, which leads to another important point contrasting with the above observations regarding democracy and republicanism in ancient Greece and Rome, to wit: All of the rest of Christendom lived under monarchy, in some cases quite autocratic monarchy. Therefore , I don’t know that your point, somewhat indirectly made, about the impossibility of constitutional republicanism and/or constitutional democracy arising out from any other culture other than that of Christian culture is quite valid.

      1. Also, just another quick note on diversity and Christianity at the founding of our country: Certainly the majority of our Founders were Christian, which cannot be denied, but it must also be observed that, importantly, none of the founding documents ever mention Christ Jesus (or Christ, or Jesus, or even Lord), but confine themselves to general, and even vague, terminology such as “Creator” and “Maker” and “God.” Why do you suppose this is?

        1. Don’t forget that the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary war stipulated “In the Year of Our Lord.” Also, recall that even after the Constitution was ratified the States (though later voluntarily suspended by each by their own process) held to a specific denomination of Christianity. George Washington attended an Episcopal church regularly as did others. Some of the most celebrated of the founding generation were unabashedly Christian (consider John Jay co-author of the Federalist Papers and first Chief Justice of the United States).

          But regarding the point made about our founding documents, let me reiterate that if all peoples in the country had been replaced with a preponderance of adherents to any of the particular worldviews mentioned, there is nothing in those worldviews to suggest any belief in inalienable rights given by God. Judaism would come closest, but the adherence to Old Testament governance and structure (in conjunction with their history) wouldn’t have allowed it – perhaps you outline where in their philosophies those concepts are mentioned, given or allowed, but my personal reading (though I am no scholar) and understanding of the times, would indicate that was not the case. Ours was based on Western Civilization and bloomed from English Common law, in my understanding. I really don’t think that is disputable to any great degree.

          It is almost as if some in academic circles would suggest – to an unsophisticated person such as myself – that the elite founders realized that Federal Government was ultimately where the power would and should reside and just sort of temporized and played with the idea of state governance until the time was right for the big change. That’s not well stated, but that is sort of the way it plays out in some respects. Particularly after the Civil War the concept or really the Reality of the 10th Amendment does not seem to be viable.

          Anyway, at least we agree that we are in some very difficult times and that, as the articles and blogs attest, we becoming increasingly fractured. Personally, I wonder if a Constitutional Convention should be held with the ultimate aim of rectifying some of this in some fashion. I might even support provinces being created where those who choose to live as multi-culturally as they wish can do so, while at the same time some Traditionally-oriented provinces would continue to exist. Not that it would be an easy thing to do, but something has to be done.

          I think that your generation and mine really was the first to be radically inculcated – and to an extent rightfully so (though no one really thought about the consequences) – as children with the sort of new world philosophy. Many would say that WWII was the straw that broke the back and was the final impetus for a major shift and move in that direction, while others suggest that advances in Physics paved the way for a relativistic and existential world. Regardless, we now have a tiger by the tail, do we not? Just when you think you’ve seen it all – something else comes up. We are no longer surprised by anything. In the 1950s I heard that the top three behavioral issues in high school related to chewing gum, running in the halls and being late to class. Things are much different now, yes? What happened. But I am reminded of a story which you likely know of a young Billy Graham meeting and being asked by Konrad Adenauer, the Chancellor of Germany after WWII who was charged with restoring that country, as they surveyed the destruction around them if he (Graham) believed in Christ. And Graham said “Yes, sir.” To which Adenauer replied as he looked at the destruction, in effect, “Outside of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I know of no hope for mankind.” These have been and continue to be very tough times, yes?

  3. Excellent summary of the unfortunate situation in this country. I like your idea of the different provinces/states though I don’t think the liberals in this society would allow it; right now they are planning and scheming to regain their control. I guess 8 years with Obama did not satisfy their endless desires to change America…..what they may not realize is……they have a damn good start! @ DDelorme

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